Foraging for free fungi

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FORAGING for free food in the forest sounds like something you might do if you found yourself unexpectedly abandoned miles from the nearest supermarket.

But in fact it’s becoming quite the fashionable thing to do, according to fungi expert Dr Patrick Harding.

He says the abundance of mushrooms and toadstools around at the moment make it an ideal time to go on a fungi foray.

But with deadly poisonous varieties lurking amongst the undergrowth, you have to know what you’re looking for.

Which is why he is holding two fungi forays at the 3,000 acre Sherwood Pines Forest Park this month.

Dr Harding, who lives in Sheffield, said: “Foraging for free food is something which everyone wants and a lot of restaurants are promoting wild food so it’s popular at the moment.”

“There’s an abundance of fungi around just now because we had the damp weather before the recent hot spell, and fungi grow fast when they are warm.”

“Ive been running courses for 35 years and we always find something.”

Dr Harding was a lecturer at Sheffield University for 20 years and did evening classes in Worksop and Retford. He is now a freelance naturalist, biologist and ecologist.

He shows his groups where to look for fungi, and shows slides of those which are edible and those which are poisonous.

He said: “Sherwood Pines is great because there is grassland as well as trees, and not just coniferous trees but broadleaved varieties as well like birch, oak and beech.”

“I don’t know if there are any fungi species specific to Sherwood. A lot of them are underground and suddenly one of them will pop up.”

“It’s the thrill of the hunt.”

Dr Harding said you don’t die from touching poisonous fungi, but from eating them, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for and to be aware of things like the colour and shape of the gills.

“There are over 4,000 species of mushrooms and toadstools and maybe only 20 are poisonous. A lot of them aren’t worth eating and don’t fall into either category of edible or poisonous.”

“Some gourmet species look very similar to lethal specimens like the Death Cap.”

“And just because a fungus is brightly coloured doesn’t necessarily mean its poisonous. The pure white Destroying Angel for instance lives up to its name. The only way to identify them is to arm yourself with knowledge.”

Dr Harding has written four books, including one called How to Identify Edible Mushrooms.

He said: “I like to put a bit of humour into my talks, and even politics. We always have a bit of fun.”

Walkers are warned never to pick and eat fungi unless it has been positively identified as harmless. Fungi plays a key role in the forest and should be picked sparingly and for personal consumption only.

The Sherwood Pines workshops are on Wednesday 19th October and Saturday 29th October. They will run from 11am to 3.30pm and are suitable for beginners and youngsters over 12 years old.

The cost is £20 per person and booking is required on 01623 822447.